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Budget PC for dual monitors, remote access, CADwork

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Last response: in Systems
January 11, 2009 8:40:45 PM

I am trying to spec out a computer for a co-worker of mine. I would say a budget in the 500-700 range w/ windows XP is a safe range.

He needs a new computer to work from home using remote access. We do roadway engineering using Microstation.
I was looking for a mobo with some onboard video that has dual monitor support. Since he will be accessing a computer at the office, his own computer will not be doing any of the work. He just needs a cheap solution for a dual monitor setup that will also function well for basic computer use.

He needs just the system, he has monitors and all other peripherals. I am just stuck on choosing a motherboard. I think we want to go with a quad, probably the q6600, 4GB of probably 800Mhz memory. I would be open to either onboard video, or a cheap board with a cheap video card. No gaming necessary, just dual monitor support.

Ok I think that should explain everything

Thanks for your help


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January 11, 2009 9:50:37 PM

An Architect speaking:

First, is this computer to stay at the office or at your friend's home? Until clarified, I´ll assume this is the computer that will be at home.

Second, are you sure you want to do CAD work from a remote location? I've done 3D work like that and "frustrating" falls short to describe the experience. The main culprit is video latency. Most remote desktop solutions either work with the client-server approach where you need to have the same application on both machines and the application itself does the network talking (this is common on UNIX style environments); or at the system level, where the screen output is captured on the server like a streaming video feed, enconded, compressed, transmitted, de-compressed, and played back on the client machine.. this approach is more common on MS-Windows based systems and while been less efficient it does work with pretty much every application.

The problem is that no matter the approach, the amount of video data traveling over the network is HUGE. Factor in that when working with CAD related applications the hand-eye-video refresh relationship has to be as close as possible.. As I said, I've done it over a LAN and it was frustrating enough that now I only do that on Emergency cases... I don't even want to imagine how it would be done over a WAN or the open Internet.

Third, I have yet to find a remote desktop solution that can deal with dual monitors. On a best case scenario -without considering the administrative overhead- the network traffic is doubled and so is the demand on your connection.

OK... if you still want to go with remote CAD access, then a QuadCore is overkill for the client machine.. the stay-at-the-house computer can even be one of those netbooks... all it has to do is work as a remote console. Sending over keyboard and mouse actions, and receiving a video-stream feed aren't very computer intensive tasks. In fact, the only component that will be stressed is the NIC. Not even the graphic card will be stressed.

The bottom line: Please try the remote-CAD thing on a real scenario before deciding about the new computer. If you friend find it responsive enough then the cheapest Best-Buy computer will suffice. On the other hand, if he finds the video-lag too high to endure -and my money is on that he will- then you need to built a computer powerful enough to run MicroStation on it's own, maybe using a FTP server or something to access the files on the office computer. That later case is a whole new scenario and paradigm to choose the PC components.
January 11, 2009 10:04:57 PM

I do a LOT of CAD through remote desktop, all AutoCAD though. It takes very little computer power on the home end for this, almost any computer you could buy in a store would suffice. I do it with a single monitor, not sure how it would work with dual monitors. If dual monitors are feasible, then you/he could buy a cheap retail computer then add a video card with dual monitor support.

Most of my remote access work is done with my 5 year old Dell Inspiron 8600 laptop. At home I can set it up on my dining table and have room to lay out my drawings and other paperwork. Where my desktop is located I don't have any layout room. I also do a lot of remote desktop work from hotels when we travel. It just seems that whenever we plan a vacation for a week, there happens to be a lot of work that needs to be done at the last minute.

AutoCAD works reasonably well through remote desktop, and there is a lot of screen data sent to the terminal computer. In the case of AutoCAD there are ways to minimize this, by zooming and moving around drawings in a certain way, and turning off layers that you don't need. I don't know if it works the same in other CAD programs.

Our office is getting into Revit, and I've been told that it doesn't work well through remote desktop because there is a lot more scrolling in and out involved. I have gotten a new laptop and installed revit with a home license onto it, then I can work at remote locations just by transferring data files back and forth.
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January 11, 2009 11:11:36 PM

Well this would be his home machine. I also do some remote access and I only have real trouble when I have large files attached with a lot of linework or aerials. Aerials are the main culprit of the slowdowns. If I am just doing some 2D linework, which is the majority of our job, then I dont really have any problems. Its not as good as being at the office, but its better to work at home on a saturday instead of go in. There is a way to do dual monitors on XP, something you type in the command line when you go to start -> run. I have tried it and its not bad either. You just have to stay away from large attachments and aerials.

This is also just an emergency/ at his convenience thing. We do most of our work at the office and only when we have to do a little extra, its nice to be able to work at home on the weekends or when you are sick.

I usually just do one screen even though i have two. My screen is big enough where I can place the two Microstation windows up there without problems.

I guess we could just evaluate his options and see what he things would be his best choice. He has been looking to upgrade his computer anyway since its about 7 years old, some ancient compaq i think. I was just going to see if I could build him something small, cheap and efficient. If not, ill just send him to best buy with this info in mind.

If anyone has some ideas for parts, that would be great. Thanks for your input you guys.

January 12, 2009 7:09:03 AM

Look at the $650 builds from the last two months on Tom's System Builder's Marathon. We can change things around to suit his needs but those are very good starting points.